Eton Park Capital Management, helmed by Eric Mindich, is shutting down and returning its capital to investors, the hedge fund told its clients in a letter Thursday. It’s a disappointing end for the hedge fund, which opened in 2004, riding on Mindich’s financial pedigree and reputation as a wunderkind. At the time, Eton Park was said to be the biggest-ever hedge fund launch, with $3.5 billion in capital commitments, according to the New York Sun.
But now, its holdings, which once ballooned to $14 billion, have withered down to $7 billion, after the hedge fund made several bad stock bets, accelerating the exodus of investors who have lost faith not only in Eton Park, but also in the industry.
“Recently, a combination of industry headwinds, a difficult market environment and, importantly, our own disappointing 2016 results have challenged our ability to continue to maintain the scale and scope we believe necessary to pursue our investment program consistent with our founding principles,” Mindich wrote in a letter to investors.
Mindich is not alone. The challenges he has faced are well known to the 9,893 hedge funds left in the $3 trillion industry.
Not only were markets choppy in the early months of 2016, but increasingly, investors have begun questioning whether the high fees charged by hedge funds are justified. Research, along with an experiment by legendary investor Warren Buffett, have shown that low-cost stock market index funds have generally outperformed hedge funds.
Eton Park lost 9% in 2016. Not only did Mindich’s returns lag behind the S&P 500—they also underperformed the overall hedge fund industry’s 5.5% return last year, according to Hedge Fund Research. Eton Park’s underperformance also wasn’t contained to just 2016. It beat the S&P 500 just once in the last six years, and has been relatively flat in 2017.
It’s the largest hedge fund fund closure of 2017, and points to more troubling trends for the industry now struggling to keep its customers.
In a bid to keep their clients happy, funds such as Och-Ziff Capital have hacked away at their fees, while others including Paul Tudor Jones have dealt with investor redemptions by cutting staff in recent years.
But those methods don’t seem to have stymied the outflow of clients from the industry. Roughly $70.1 billion in assets were redeemed last year—the highest level since 2009.
Perhaps more alarmingly, 2016 continued on a six-year trend of fewer and fewer new hedge funds opening—and a three-year trend of more and more hedge fund closures. That’s resulted in a decline in the overall number of hedge funds from their peak in 2015, with 147 fewer hedge funds in operation by the end of 2016.
In fact, 2016 had the highest level of hedge fund closures and lowest level of openings since 2008, the year of the financial crisis. And for the second year in a row, the rate of hedge fund closures outpaced that of hedge fund openings, with 1,057 hedge funds closing in 2016,while 729 hedge funds were launched, according to HFR.
So will hedge funds have another rough year in 2017? It’s possible that select funds will do well, though the industry as a whole has underperformed the market every year since 2008. The rising frustration among investors over high fund fees and inconsistent returns? That’s not likely to go away any time soon.